Whether you’ve got a good ‘phelan’ or a bad ‘phelan’ about the appointment of Neil Adams’s new right-hand man, there is no arguing that as a coach, Mike Phelan brings bucket loads of experience and an inside knowledge of the game that’s hard to beat.
Like everyone, I hope that such qualities bode well for a return to table-topping form for the Canaries but as with everything in life (except for birth, death and taxes), there’s no guarantee.
For the first few years of Phelan’s coaching career, it didn’t look promising as he followed fellow ex-Canary Gary Megson around a number of poorly-performing clubs (starting with City) without being able to revive their flagging fortunes.
Phelan then landed a plum role at Old Trafford from which he progressed through the Ferguson hierarchy to spend the last few years next to ‘the great man’ before the ‘chosen one’ decided to dispense with his services.
Many experts cite that latter decision as a major error in the short, yet entertaining (from outside the Manchester bubble) stint of Moyes.
Twenty years or so on from his Carrow Road coaching apprenticeship, Phelan finds himself back in Norfolk (inevitably so maybe as he was born in a place called Nelson) although not in the top job as some were clamouring for way back in the last knockings of our dying Premier existence.
Conspiracy theories are rife. It’s all part of some grand plan by David McNally to put in place a manager-in-waiting should things not work out well over the coming weeks and time has to be called on the Adams-era. A ready-made replacement which will prevent any embarrassing hiatus while prospective candidates from the UK (or further afield, like last time… allegedly) are considered if the slide down the table isn’t quickly reversed.
People love a conspiracy theory of course (JFK, moon landing, 9/11 etc). The departure of previous coach Mark Robson took everyone by surprise and was never really explained by Adams – that’s his prerogative of course.
Whatever qualities Adams first saw in a man with just 13 games as manager of Barnet and 14 more in the dugout with the goggle-wearing Dutch master Edgar Davids (at the same club), seem to have rapidly become unappealing once the early season crack and fizzle turned to thud and splutter.
The new set-up is an odd arrangement in many ways. Back in 1995/96 Phelan, as Megson’s second in command, was responsible for coaching amongst others, Neil Adams. With the ‘boot’ now on the other foot, the master has turned pupil and vice versa. That’s got to be a bit awkward?
Add Gary Holt into the mix, and we have reverted our trust to a classic ‘old boys’ network’. Designed to bring back some vim and vigour to our play and banish those nightmarish Middlesbrough/Forest memories to be forever treated as unfortunate blips in an otherwise successful push into the top six for the 2014/15 season. The minimum requirement post-relegation surely?
It all sounds ideal – three City hall-of famers, all with some (varying) degrees of legendary playing status at the club and so who know their way around and have an instant connection with fans.
To take up the role of devil’s advocate, I would point out that our greatest successes in recent times have come as a result of an injection of life from pastures well away from the dreaming spires of the Fine City: Lambert, Worthington, Walker, Brown, Bond and Saunders – none of whose playing careers took a turn in Norfolk.
Of course the more negative of the yellow and green army would point to the last time such an old boys scenario was in place – the Gunn/Crook/Deehan combo. It looked a dream team on paper but one which became the stuff of nightmares on that never-to-be-forgotten August day in 2009.
Just a blip for the old boys’ network concept? Maybe not. The Deehan-Megson (1994-95), O’Neill-Walford (1995) and Megson-Phelan (1995-96) regimes soon faltered and fell apart with early optimism replaced by resignations and recriminations.
The mid-90s were not good for the network’s reputation. In fact, only Dave Stringer and David Williams (1987-92) can really be put up as a case for the network bearing any fruit of a successful vintage… and that’s a long time ago.
And now we find ourselves in the middle of another decade pinning our hopes on a team of ex-Canaries full of good intentions. Will history repeat itself or can team Adams buck that record and restore the network’s status at Carrow Road? Can Adams do ‘a Stringer’?
It all depends on whether you take the Fordian “history is bunk” approach to life or prefer the Churchillian mindset of “those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
The decision to go with an old boys’ team on the sidelines is a risky formula that, along with mullets and tight shorts, has arguably all but long disappeared from the game since the glory days of the Anfield ‘boot room’.
Despite my devil’s advocate role, I genuinely hope that team Adams manages to get our season back on track and ensures that subsequent success is a ‘family affair’. If not, then maybe David McNally should take a lesson from history next time around and confine that Carrow Road old boys’ network to the past.